By Jueseppi B.
“Stand Your Ground” Laws: Civil Rights and Public Safety Implications of the Expanded Use of Deadly Force
October 29, 2013
Chairman Durbin and Members of the Committee,
Moms Demand Action is pleased to submit this statement and applauds your leadership in holding a public hearing on the critical issue of Stand Your Ground laws and what they are doing to our society, our families, and our children.
Background on our organization: Much like Mothers Against Drunk Driving was created to reduce drunk driving, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America (www.momsdemandaction.org) was created to demand action from legislators, state and federal; companies; and educational institutions to establish commonsense gun reforms. We are a nonpartisan grassroots movement of American mothers demanding new and stronger solutions to lax gun laws, loopholes and policies that for too long have jeopardized the safety of our children and families.
Our position on gun laws: Moms Demand Action supports the 2nd Amendment. Period. The death of an American child or teen every 3 hours and 15 minutes at the barrel of a gun was never the intent of the 2nd Amendment and is not a necessary consequence of the 2nd Amendment.
Mothers in urban, suburban and rural America are angry that we are losing so many of our loved ones to gun violence. Moms Demand Action is a nonpartisan, grassroots movement demanding a safer society, calling for common sense. We have more than 100,000 members and a chapter in every state in this country.
We are a young, healthy, growing organization. We are educating, motivating, and mobilizing moms and families to take action that will result in stronger laws and policies to save lives. We support these common sense solutions to help address gun violence in the United States:
- Require background checks for all gun and ammunition purchases;
- Ban assault weapons and ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds;
- Track the sale of large quantities of ammunition, and ban online sales;
- Establish product safety oversight of guns and ammunition, and require childsafe gun technology;
- Support policies at companies and public institutions that promote gun safety;
- Counter the gun industry’s efforts to weaken gun laws at the state level.
Moms Demand Action on Stand your Ground laws: Our organization looks at all policies from the perspective of parents raising families in America. The need to protect our children and loved ones is paramount to all that we do. We understand that conflict in society and in day to day life is basic to the human experience and part of what we prepare our children to deal with in a healthy, productive way. Stand Your Ground laws do not promote healthy conflict resolution. Too often they foster an “attack” response or even worse, vigilante “justice”. And because easy access to guns and concealed carry laws make lethal weapons immediately available to most anyone – including the untrained and irresponsible that attack response becomes deadly.
Some claim that these faulty laws assure innocent people of greater safety. From what we have learned, studies indicate that these laws do NOT make us safer. A recent Texas A&M study analyzed 20 states with Stand Your Ground laws, including Florida, and found that the laws do not deter violent crime. In fact, there is a clear increase in homicides in those states, resulting in up to 700 more shooting deaths nationwide each year.
Stand Your Ground laws also disproportionately affect communities of color. According to an Urban Institute study, when white shooters kill black victims, 34 percent of the resulting homicides are deemed justifiable, while only 3 percent of deaths are ruled justifiable when the shooter is black and the victim is white. Far from making us feel safe, these findings and recent cases are cause for alarm, and highlight the fact that human error is allowed to reign under these laws.
Moms Demand Action was formed after the horrific slaughter of 6 and 7 year old children in Connecticut. Many of our charter members were mothers and fathers of similaraged children who felt a painful empathy for those devastated families – an empathy which drives us still. As we have learned more about the dysfunction of our country’s gun laws, we have expanded our membership to thousands of parents of children of all ages.
For parents of teenagers, Stand Your Ground laws add a level of concern which should not be tolerated in modern society. Walking down dark streets, sneak drinking, and hanging out in secluded areas – all are risky behaviors that are fairly common among adolescents. Facing a trip to a detention hall or even the police station are the consequences of most of these actions. Facing a gun should not be.
Stand Your Ground laws permit deadly force under certain circumstances. But it is much easier for the shooter to claim those circumstances existed than for the dead teenager to tell his or her side of the story. For generations, American mothers and fathers have taught their children that this country is exceptional, because we are a nation of laws and justice. Kill first, explain later is not justice.
Moms Demand Action has over 100,000 members and is expanding, because we fear for the safety of our children and are committed to doing everything that we can to protect them. Stand Your Ground laws on top of concealed carry and the gun industry’s feverish endeavor to sell more guns put our children at risk. Children and adults who may simply have been in the wrong place at the wrong time are now more likely to die at the hands of the armed and angry. This is unacceptable. Standing, killing and explaining later should not be tolerated in any community.
We call on Congress to address the Stand Your Ground crisis in any way possible and applaud the Subcommittee for initiating that effort today. We also stand committed to turning back the damage the proliferation of these illconceived laws has wrought in every state they exist especially as proponents seek to couple them with more concealed deadly weapons through “reciprocity” action by Congress.
Thank you for your attention and action on this issue. We believe it is possible to bring gun sense to the laws of our country and look forward to working with the Committee to reach our goal.
I used to think gun violence in America was someone else’s problem – something that affected people in poor neighborhoods in the inner city, far from where I was raising my son, Jordan. After all, Jordan’s father and I were enjoying good careers in the airline industry and I was raising our only child in a comfortable Atlanta suburb. Jordan’s friends were well off and well educated and came from all races and ethnicities.
In the fall of 2010, I was diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time. It soon became obvious that Jordan would be better off living with his father in Jacksonville, Florida as I underwent treatment.
Jordan, then 17, was still living in Jacksonville when my world – and my understanding of gun violence – changed forever. On the day after Thanksgiving in 2012, a middle-aged white man named Michael Dunn pulled his car into a gas station next to the Dodge Durango in which three African American boys, including my son, were listening to music while a friend was inside the convenience store.
Dunn told the boys to turn their music down. As teenage boys often do, they refused to lower the volume. Moments later, Dunn opened fire on Jordan and his friends with a barrage of ten bullets. Three of them hit my son. He died in his friends’ arms.
My grief has been overwhelming and at times it has overpowered me. But I feel a responsibility to do everything possible to prevent what’s happened to my family from happening to anyone else.
Not long after Jordan’s death, I heard about Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a nonpartisan, grassroots group founded by Shannon Watts, a mother of five in Indiana. Inspired by the effectiveness of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Watts started Moms Demand Action in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre that took place a few weeks after Jordan was killed.
Moms Demand Action helps organize rallies, phone banks, letter writing, and other citizen initiatives to support gun policy reform at both the state and federal level. In less than a year, it already has united more than 100,000 members in every state to work for background checks for all gun and ammunition purchases, a ban on assault weapons and ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds, a prohibition on online ammunition sales, and other reforms.
The organization also has focused on pushing companies like Starbucks to change their gun policies. Just last month, CEO Howard Schultz responded by announcing that stores would no longer welcome guns.
Local Moms Demand Action chapters are working hard to end Stand Your Ground, a law that the gun lobby helped to pass and which now exists in more than 20 states. To invoke the law, a killer doesn’t have to prove that they were acting in self-defense because their life was threatened. They just have to claim that they believed they were in danger. When the trial over my son’s death starts next year, Michael Dunn is expected to defend himself using provisions of Florida’s Stand Your Ground.
Before Jordan was killed, his father and I had many conversations with him about the Trayvon Martin case. We raised our son to know that he was valued as a human being, just like anyone else. Yet, we had to warn him that because he was a young, black and male there might be times when he would have to be cautious about protecting himself. Unfortunately, those warnings could not save him from a man with anger in his heart and a gun in his hand.
Even if my son’s killer is convicted despite Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, that will not bring justice for Jordan. True justice for Jordan will require that our elected public officials enact gun laws that will make us all safer.
I’m traveling to Washington, DC and testifying in the U.S. Senate on Tuesday (Oct. 29) to deliver this same message to members of Congress. Even though it’s incredibly painful to talk about what happened, I still feel an obligation to fight for my son. I can’t save him, but my deep hope is that by advocating for sensible gun reforms I can prevent even one mom from having to face the profound loss that I have.
Responsible gun laws will be passed only when other parents come to the same realization that stronger laws and policies will save lives. We have to be informed. We have to take action. And we have to make our voices heard.
Lucy McBath, National Spokesperson for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, to Testify at U.S. Senate Stand Your Ground Hearing
How Many People Have Been Killed by Guns Since Newtown?
The answer to the simple question in that headline is surprisingly hard to come by. So Slate is collecting data for our crowd sourced interactive. This data is necessarily incomplete (click here to see why, and to learn more about @GunDeaths, the Twitter user who helped us create this interactive). But the more people who are paying attention, the better the data will be. You can help us draw a more complete picture of gun violence in America. If you know about a gun death in your community that isn’t represented here, please email a link to a news reportto email@example.com. And if you’d like to use this data yourself for your own projects, it’s open. You can download it here.
Update, October 29th, 2013: As time goes on, our count gets further and further away from the likely actual number of gun deaths in America—because roughly 60 percent of deaths by gun are due to suicides, which are very rarely reported. When discussing this issue, please note that our number is by design not accurate and represents only the number of gun deaths that the media can find out about contemporaneously. Part of the purpose of this interactive is to point out how difficult it is to get accurate real-time numbers on this issue.
Using the most recent CDC estimates for yearly deaths by guns in the United States, it is likely that as of today, 10/29/2013, roughly 28,777 people have died from guns in the U.S. since the Newtown shootings. Thats 319 days. Compare that number to the number of deaths reported in the news, which is 9,952 deaths, and you can see how under reported the story of gun violence in America actually is.
Slate partners with @GunDeaths for an interactive, crowd sourced tally of the toll firearms have taken since December 14, 2012
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